1. Eat!

This one sounds simple, but the most important thing you can do to make sure you have a natural relationship with food is eat, and eat often. Diets that call for the restriction of entire meals or entire food groups set us up for failure. They are usually unsustainable, and huge calorie deficits slow down our metabolism, turn off important systems in our bodies like the immune system, break down lean body mass, and set us up for weight gain when normal eating patterns are restored.

Instead, focus on eating smaller amounts of food more often. This will help regulate blood sugar swings (which will help to control appetite) and will keep you from getting so hungry that you overeat when you finally sit down to a meal. Likewise, don’t restrict types of food. Our brains do not like the word no and when we tell ourselves we can’t eat something, we end up craving it even more. Instead, let yourself eat what you want, focusing on portion control with richer foods when, if you really pay attention, a little probably goes a long way.

  1. Listen to Your Body!

Our bodies are fascinating machines and a testament to the power of nature. They are also incredibly good at knowing what they need. To this end, working with our bodies’ hunger/satiety cues instead of against them is a great way to make sure you’re eating the right amount of food. Spend some time tuning into your body and learn to recognize what hunger feels like and what it feels like when it goes away. Then, eat when you feel hungry and stop eating when you don’t anymore. This stopping point, by the way, is well before you feel physical discomfort from fullness. It takes twenty minutes for signals from the stomach to reach the brain, so make sure you’re eating mindfully and slowly to best gage when you’ve had enough.

  1. Visit the Produce Aisle!

The best way to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck from your food nutrition-wise is to focus on upping your veggie intake. The USDA recommends eating nine servings of fruits and veggies a day. If this seems like a tall order, your best bet to meet that goal is to follow the plate method of food portioning.

With the plate method, you eat your meals on a standard dinner plate, making a full half of that plate vegetables. The other half is then divided into carbs (¼ of the plate or about a cupped palm) and protein (also ¼ or about the size of a deck of cards). Do this at every meal, throw in a couple of servings of fruit throughout the day as snacks, and you’ll hit those nine servings of produce in no time!

  1. Stay hydrated!

What does this have to do with food, you may ask. More than you’d guess! The truth is our brains don’t differentiate well between hunger and thirst so even mild dehydration can make us feel like we are hungry when our bodies don’t actually need food. Also, dehydration causes fatigue, which can make us turn to caffeine and sugar to try to pep up, adding unnecessary calories to our intake. So, if you’re feeling a little lackluster but not feeling hunger pangs, I suggest hitting the sink instead of the fridge to rev yourself back up!

  1. Get moving!

Another thing that doesn’t immediately seem related to food, however anybody who’s ever exercised regularly can tell you that it definitely affects your appetite. Not only does exercising burn calories, it raises your metabolism for hours after you’re done working out so you’re still burning energy later even just sitting on the couch. Also, exercise helps to balance out hunger-regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin, establishing a natural rhythm with our hunger cues.

By Rick Elliott